Hawks withstand second half surge
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Dominic Castaneda looks for blockers during his 50-yard fake punt touchdown run to open the scoring in Friday’s 28-20 victory over the Kerman Lions. Castaneda rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He also set the school record for interceptions in a season with his fifth and sixth picks against the Lions.
The Kerman Lions exploded for 286 second half yards against the Liberty Hawks, but the Hawks stood firm and held on for a 28-20 victory to ensure a winning season.
The Hawks, now 3-1, scored three first half touchdowns and held their breath as Kerman had opportunities to score the potential game-tying points in the final seconds of Friday’s North Sequoia League match-up.
“They took it down there and made it interesting,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “Our kids made plays when it was time.”
While the Hawks shut out the Lions in the first half and scored three touchdowns, Kerman scored on three straight second half drives to make it close before the Hawks managed their lone second half drive to lead by two scores.
“They got us on our heels,” Nolte said. “They got some momentum and cut the lead to seven and now we’re in a football game. We strung a drive together to get in the end zone and stretch it back to 14. Now, they are having to scramble. That was a big drive.”
Even more important than the win was that 14 Liberty Hawks seniors got to celebrate football Senior Night with their families and walk off Liberty’s football field with a victory.
“In October, I still had some hope we were going to have a season,” Nolte said. “In January, the numbers got bad and it wasn’t looking good. I told the kids there’s some of us that wrote the season off and some that held out hope. Wherever you are, we’re going to have a season and we’re going to enjoy every minute of it. I’m happy the kids get to play.
“Senior night is always a big win no matter who we’re playing. If they get through all the ceremonial stuff, it’s pretty emotional. The ones that’s been around a long time, it hits them, the realization this is it. To get through that and regroup and play a football game, it’s nice and nice to win on Senior Night.”
Dominic Castaneda was the highlight for the Hawks. Not only did he rush for 125 yards and two touchdowns, including a 50-yard touchdown run on a fake punt, he also picked off two passes and made seven tackles. He now has six interceptions in the shortened season, the most by any Liberty player.
“It’s nice to have Dominic,” Nolte said. “You always want players that can make plays and Dominic is a player that can make plays. The first touchdown, we’re punting the ball and it turns into a touchdown for us. It’s just improvising on his part. He had some big plays tonight. It’s really nice having a guy like that, as well as other great players.”
The Hawks were forced to punt on their first drive. Castaneda went back in punt formation, but the snap bounced back to him. He gathered the ball and when he looked up, he saw a lane. Castaneda ran down the left sideline, setting up some blocks and escaping more tacklers. When he hit the 20-yard line, he cut across the field to score from 50 yards out and give the Hawks an early 7-0 lead.
The Lions drove 35 yards on their first possession, taking the ball to the 33-yard line before Nick Anselmo, who also rushed for 117 yards, sacked the Kerman quarterback. On the next play, Castaneda picked off an overthrow and ran it back 67 yards the Kerman nine-yard line.
Two plays later, Anselmo scored on a three-yard touchdown run. Steven Pennington’s extra point gave the Hawks a 140 lead with 3:25 left in the first quarter.
After a trade in punts, the Lions drove inside Liberty’s 30-yard line before the defense held up. Diego Rojas, Brad Wallace and Vince Oberti stuffed Kerman for a gain of four. On third-and-two, Anselmo stopped the Kerman quarterback for no gain. On fourth down, Kerman threw incomplete.
The Hawks went on their longest drive of the game, a 14-play, 74-yard drive, to take a 21-0 lead.
Anselmo gained eight on second-and-seven and Diego Piedra gained two with a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one.
Anselmo burst through the middle for a 19-yard gain. Three plays later, Anselmo gained six on third-and-three. Two plays later, Piedra hit Anselmo for an 11-yard pass play and a first down to the one.
Piedra, on another sneak, scored from a yard out for a three touchdown lead with 3:28 left in the half.
Helped by a pas interference penalty, the Lions drove inside the Hawks’ 20-yard line, but on third-and-five, Castaneda cut in front of an intended receiver for an interception in the end zone and halt the Lions’ drive.
After halftime, the Lions went on a nine-play, 62-yard drive to get on the scoreboard.
The Hawks went three-and-out on their first second half drive.
Kerman got its next drive started with a 49-yard run by quarterback Ashton Chalabian. Kerman scored on a nine-yard touchdown run to cut Liberty’s lead to seven.
The Hawks came right back and exploited a hole in the Kerman defense.
Using sweeps to the right, Castaneda gained 21 yards on the opening play, but it was called back on a holding call.
Nolte went to Anselmo up the middle and Castaneda to the outside on the drive. Castaneda gained 18 and then Anselmo went for seven. Castaneda then gained 20 and scored on the next play for a 28-14 lead with 58 seconds left in the half.
The Lions quickly struck for a 45-yard touchdown run just 34 seconds into the fourth quarter to cut the lead to seven.
Liberty got a 36-yard run by Anselmo to move inside the Kerman 30-yard line. The drive stalled at the 21 as the Hawks turned the ball over on downs.
After an initial Kerman first down, Chalabian looked to pass on third-and-one. Wallace stuck his hand up and battled the ball in the air. Rojas made the interception and the Hawks took over.
Liberty gave up the ball on downs but took precious time off the clock.
“Anytime you can get the ball and run some time in that situation, it’s a big play,” Nolte said.
Kerman started moving the ball down the field. Three first downs moved the Lions inside the Liberty 35-yard line. A nine-yard pass play gave the Lions a first down at the Liberty 22 with 38 seconds left.
After an incomplete pass, Kerman ran the ball. Rojas made the tackle after a four-yard gain, but the Lions didn’t call a time out. They ran their next play, an incomplete pass, and left just five seconds on the clock for fourth-and-six.
The fourth down pass was high in the end zone and the Hawks took over.
Piedra calmly took a knee and the Hawks picked up a Senior Night victory.
Liberty closes out the season Friday in Chowchilla.